William James Fanning (September 14, 1927 – April 25, 2015) was an American-Canadian catcher, manager and front office executive in Major League Baseball. Often called "Gentleman Jim", Fanning was the first general manager of the Montreal Expos of the National League (appointed in August 1968), and served the Expos in a number of capacities for almost 25 years. As their field manager in 1981, he guided Montreal into the playoffs for the only time in the 36-year history of the franchise.
|Born: September 14, 1927|
|Died: April 25, 2015 (aged 87)|
|September 11, 1954, for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 29, 1957, for the Chicago Cubs|
|Runs batted in||5|
Playing and early front office careerEdit
Born in Chicago, Fanning grew up in the now unincorporated community of Moneta, Iowa, and attended its school, graduating with nine classmates in 1945. He played baseball for the Moneta Bulldogs and they earned a state runner-up title his sophomore season to Corwith. He later attended Buena Vista College in Storm Lake. In his professional playing days, he was a catcher who played most of his career in the minor leagues. He spent the 1957 season and parts of three others with the Chicago Cubs between 1954 and 1957, compiling an anemic batting average of .170 in 64 career games played, with no home runs and 24 hits. On Sep 14, 1957, in the second game of a double-header against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Fanning caught Cub pitcher Dave Hillman, playing on their shared 30th birthdays, the only known instance of a battery sharing the same birth date (that game, though, is more famous for the three home runs hit by Chicago's star shortstop Ernie Banks). Fanning then became a manager in the minor leagues, eventually joining the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves organization, where in the middle of the 1960s he was promoted to the positions of Director of Minor League Operations and assistant general manager.
Fanning was briefly listed as a coach for the 1968 Braves, but before the season began he resigned to become the first director of the Central Scouting Bureau. Just months later, when his old Milwaukee boss, John McHale, became the first president of the expansion Expos, Fanning accompanied him to Canada as the Expos' general manager. Fanning and McHale built the Expos from scratch; in those days, prior to the era of free agency, newly formed clubs could only rely on expansion and amateur drafts and trades to build their talent base.
Building the expansion ExposEdit
Fanning drafted wisely in the 1968 NL expansion lottery, and parlayed some of his drafted players to obtain via trade Rusty Staub from the Houston Astros. Dubbed le Grand Orange, Staub was one of the early folk heroes of les Expos, along with fellow outfielder Mack Jones and no-hit pitcher (and future Expos' executive) Bill Stoneman. Just prior to the 1972 season, Fanning traded Staub to the New York Mets for three regulars – shortstop Tim Foli, outfielder Ken Singleton and first baseman Mike Jorgensen – who helped Montreal contend for the NL East title in 1973. Overall, with opportunistic manager Gene Mauch at the helm, Fanning achieved a degree of success during his eight years as GM, but when Montreal regressed in 1976, Fanning was replaced by Charlie Fox.
He then served in a number of front office posts with Montreal, including director of scouting, when, during the 1981 stretch run, he was called back into uniform. Manager Dick Williams, who had led the Expos into contention in 1979 and 1980, had alienated his players and clashed with the front office over his use of bullpen closer Jeff Reardon. With 27 games left in the season, Williams was sacked on September 8, and Fanning was named his replacement. The move came as something of a surprise; he hadn't managed in almost 20 years.
Success and frustration as Expo managerEdit
Fanning's calm and easygoing style favorably contrasted with Williams' hard edge, and the Expos won 16 of their last 27 games to capture the second-half NL East title, thus qualifying for the playoffs per 1981's strike-shortened, split-season format. The Expos then defeated the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs to advance to the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the deciding fifth game, on what became known in Montreal as "Blue Monday" (October 19, 1981), Los Angeles outfielder Rick Monday hit a tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning off Montreal ace pitcher Steve Rogers. The Dodgers won, 2–1, and advanced to the World Series, where they defeated the New York Yankees. None knew it then, but 1981 would represent Montreal's only trip to the baseball playoffs; in 2005, the club relocated to Washington, D.C., and became the Washington Nationals.
Fanning returned as pilot in 1982, but the Expos finished a disappointing third, six games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Fanning moved back into the front office, handing over the baseball manager's job to Bill Virdon, recently fired by the Houston Astros. But Virdon could not arrest the Expos' decline in 1983 and was fired with 30 games left in the 1984 campaign. Once more, Fanning came down to the field and took over the club, but with poor (14–16) results, as the team finished a disappointing fifth.
Late career and deathEdit
Fanning, with a career major league managing record of 116–103 (.530), hung up his uniform at the close of the 1984 season and returned to Montreal's front office. He was succeeded as pilot by Buck Rodgers. After a brief stint as a color commentator on Expos radio and TV broadcasts, Fanning left the Montreal organization, working next as a scout for the Colorado Rockies prior to becoming an assistant general manager and then ambassador to amateur baseball/Canada for the Toronto Blue Jays.
He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario, in 2000, and received his Canadian citizenship in 2012.
Fanning died as the result of a heart attack on April 25, 2015, at his London, Ontario, residence at the age of 87.
|Team||Year||Regular Season||Post Season|
|Won||Lost||Win %||Finish||Won||Lost||Win %||Result|
|MON||1981||16||11||.593||2nd in NL East||5||5||.500||Lost to Los Angeles Dodgers|
|MON||1982||86||76||.531||3rd in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|MON||1984||14||16||.467||5th in NL East||–||–||–||–|
- Jesse Feith, Montreal Gazette More Jesse Feith, Montreal Gazette. "Longtime Expos general manager Jim Fanning dies". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved April 26, 2015.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "Baseball : L'ancien gérant des Expos de Montréal Jim Fanning est décédé à l'âge de 87 ans – RDS.ca". RDS.ca. Retrieved April 26, 2015.